The Oregon Art Education Association has named Riverdale Grade School art teacher Nancy Helmsworth the Elementary Level Art Educator of the Year. by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Nancy Helmsworth

Helmsworth, who received her Master of Arts degree in teaching from Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education & Counseling, came to Riverdale in 1997.

“It’s been a really enriching experience as a teacher, but as an artist as well,” she said. “By teaching them about art ... and also by seeing their ideas ... I’ve certainly learned a ton as an artist. ... I can think of three ideas; in a whole room full of kids, there’s 24 ideas.”

Helmsworth said her mission as a teacher is to help her students “develop a resilience and the stamina to struggle with a project, to really craft it and really be honest with yourself when it needs more work.”

“I actually make them work pretty hard,” she said. “They have to do a nice job.”

With the students under her tutelage ranging from kindergarteners to eighth-graders, Helmsworth said she has been careful to tailor the difficulty of her curricula to be developmentally appropriate for each class and each student.

“That’s one cool thing about Riverdale,” she said. “I know the kids so well, I know how far each one can go. I push them at all their levels.”

Helmsworth has delivered this education despite numerous setbacks.

“I am truly heartbroken with how much schools are cutting art programs in Oregon and nationwide,” she said. “I think it’s so wrong for a number of reasons, including kids don’t get to work with their hands very much, don’t know how materials work even, because they’re so busy on electronic or digital media.”

These reductions have not just been felt at the state and national level, Riverdale, too, has been retrenching.

“Riverdale is at a period of adjustment now,” Helmsworth said. “My work week was shortened.”

Being designated Elementary Level Art Teacher of the Year, she said, has been a true boon.

“It’s been affirming. ... It’s nice to have something positive happen even at a time when for many schools art is the first thing to go,” she said.

The OAEA is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization consisting of a volunteer board of art educators from around the state of Oregon and advocates for the advancement and expansion of quality visual arts education. It is affiliated with the National Art Education Association.

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